She deserves better

photoToday is Corinne’s 43rd birthday. It’s also her last day earning a salary for the foreseeable future.

She deserves better.

She deserves a better birthday. She deserves a better result after 13 years of bleeding CM blue (well, 12 years of bleeding CM blue and one year of bleeding A&Z “that’s not pink, it’s berry”). And she deserves a better tribute than this crappy blog post.

She deserves decisive, competent leadership. She deserves the chance to spread her wings and do what she can do. She deserves committed support. When she has those things, she can move mountains. I’ve watched her grow over the last 13 years from a talented-but-quiet graphic designer into the best creative director I’ve ever worked with. Bar none. And I’ve worked with some good ones. But you can’t be a creative director when there’s nothing and no one to direct.

So you see, we don’t always get what we deserve. Most of us who worked at the company that was once known as Creative Memories have seen that. Screw it. It is what it is. Move on.

And now she’s on her own. She’s scared shitless, but she’s in there swinging. She’s slapping the crap out of her course load at Saint Scholastica. She’s making contacts. She’s exploring options. She’s even laying the foundations for a company with infinite possibilities.

skoog_logoShe’s scared but fighting. And I’m not being much of any help because I’m scared and frozen in place. Losing over half of our household income grabs me by the chest and makes me feel inadequate for not earning more or not being able to fix this. As a result, I’ve been doing a pretty poor job of being the rock she needs to lean on in this time of crisis.

I didn’t feel much like writing this blog post, but I did it. It’s taken me five drafts and I still know I’m not coming close to putting into words what a remarkable, powerful, resilient woman my wife is and how physically painful it’s been to watch the life being slowly sucked from her over the last year.

But she wanted a blog post for her birthday.

She deserves better.

Special guest post!

Well, at least one of us is writing. Corinne just finished her first paper for her English class. (FYI, my wife is currently kicking the shit out of the Marketing program at the College of Saint Scholastica.) I love it. It’s honest, it’s introspective, it’s interesting.

She’s not sure about letting me post it here, but I totally reassured her that y’all don’t judge. (Back me up on this one, people.) FYI, Josie’s dad DID totally come around. Josie and her father have a great relationship. Also, for the record, the line about not meeting his family was creative license. She had at least met his family.

And so, without further adieu, I give to you a 730-word narrative of awesomeness:

The Day I Was Born

Being nineteen was stressful enough. Being nineteen and bringing a new life into this world, on my own, changed my perspective on, well, everything. On March 5, 1991, she showed up, right on time, blue and not breathing – immediately starting the chain of events that would forever redefine who I am.

When I was eighteen, I thought eighteen was stressful. Same with seventeen – I’m pretty sure I thought every year was stressful from the time I turned thirteen and entered what I thought would be the defining years of my life; I was the center of my own drama. I was quiet and fairly shy, but I wanted to be outgoing and dramatic. I dreamed of being tall and beautiful, with long hair and a perfect complexion. But instead I was vertically challenged, average looking, prone to frequent acne breakouts and my mom endeavored to keep my hair short. My preconceived notions of who I should be did nothing for my self-esteem. This self-inflicted state dictated my choices and my behaviors. I wanted to be that person I saw in my imagination and I wanted someone to love that vision of me – or so, I thought.

I met him when I was still seventeen at the end of my senior year in high school. He was new and that was exciting. He wasn’t tall, but he was tan with dark hair, brown eyes and a contagious laugh. I knew I wanted to get to know him better and for him to want to get to know me better too. I should mention at this point that he was also a resident in the boys’ halfway house for recovering teen alcohol and drug-addicts located in our town – girls were pretty much off-limits as a condition of residency in the program. However, that didn’t stop me – I was selfish and his success or failure in the program wasn’t on my agenda.

We spent time together the rest of that school year and into the summer. Eventually he was banned from leaving the halfway house without a peer chaperone and I was banned from the program’s premises as well. We had connected and now we were banned from each other – a great romantic drama in the making. Summer passed by quickly and eventually I left for college in the fall while he continued his sobriety program. Coincidentally, college for me was located in his hometown and when he was allowed visits home, they included visits to see me too. Our relationship wasn’t doing much to help him through his program, but I chose not to think about that. I was more interested in knowing that he was choosing to be with me.

At the end of my first semester of college, he returned from his stay at the halfway house. I was excited that finally we were going to be a ‘normal’ couple – with real dates. I was sure I would meet his friends, meet his family, see where he lived… None of this was the case. Instead, he broke up with me. I was devastated. He hadn’t wanted me to be part of his life; he had wanted a distraction from his reality. (No different from the distraction I wanted from myself, but I wasn’t going to admit that.)

Six months passed, we’d both gone our separate ways and I continued to try to be the girl in my imagination. He re-entered my life after my freshman year of college and this time there were no restrictions. He had just graduated from high school and moved into his own apartment. We were together less than three weeks. And it changed everything. I found out a few weeks later that I was pregnant. When I told him, he wanted nothing to do with me, or a baby.

On March 5, 1991, she showed up, right on time, blue and not breathing. They rushed her out of the room with barely more than an, ‘It’s a girl!’ tossed my way. It wasn’t about me. From that very first moment she entered the world, it stopped being about me and who I thought I was and what I thought I wanted. I got to see her for the first time about an hour later. They brought her in and I saw a tiny perfect person and I knew who I was – I was her mom.

On being Dad

photo[1]My dad had a brief-but-fairly brilliant career. As much as it’s possible to be a rock star or a rainmaker in human resources, that was my dad.

He rose quickly up the ranks through an impressive series of promotions. As I understand it, he was considered something of an expert in developing programs. I know at one of the plants where he worked he faced a unionization vote. He took that personally and worked like hell and, in the end, the workers believed and trusted that he and the company had their backs. They voted down the union. (I’m not trying to start a pro-/anti-union debate here. I’m just pointing it out as an anecdotal example of how seriously my dad took his work and how good he was at it.)

He was firmly established at the executive level by the time he was my age. But by the time he was 50 he, his doctors and his company all agreed that multiple sclerosis is a complete f’ing jackass. Based on that consensus, they also agreed that the grind of Dad’s job wasn’t doing him any good in his fight against MS. So he “went on long-term disability” or “retired” or “was put out to pasture” or something like that. I don’t know what arrangements were worked out or what legal machinations were involved. “Leave that shit to the HR folks” – that’s what I always say.

We all go through stages that help to define us – even if it’s only defining ourselves in our own minds.

My dad was Tom, the hell-raising scourge of Pope county. (At least that’s the bill of goods he always tried to sell me when I was growing up.)

My dad was Tom, the academic black sheep of Saint John’s University. (Dad was the human personification of the old axiom: “He who fails to learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat it.”*)

Then he was Working Tom. And, as a result of that decision relating to his MS, he was only Working Tom for about 28 years. He’s 72 now. If you do the math (because I’m certainly not going to) you’ll find that means there’s some big number of years where he hasn’t been actively defined by his career.

Okay, I’m the furthest thing from a workaholic. And I still define myself, in large part, by my career. I don’t know how my dad defines himself. Dad, if it helps, I can think of two active roles right now that you’ve engaged in for a long time: husband and father.

I’m not going to get into evaluating Tom Skoog as a husband. But Dad, if you’re looking for elements around which to build your sense of identity (although I’m not sure how many 72-year-olds are actively building a sense of identity), I think you’ve got a totally valid claim on “father.”

My dad’s been a great dad, and I love him. Here are some things he wasn’t and things he was:

  • He wasn’t “there for me at every event.” I remember him at a handful of soccer games. And I don’t recall him ever watching me play tennis. I was just fine with that. I was a pretty crappy player and probably wouldn’t have been that much fun to watch. Besides, I wasn’t doing those things to entertain him. I was doing those things because they were fun and I had friends on the teams.
  • He was “there for me when I needed him.” When I did stupid shit, he’d rescue me. I remember running out of gas in our 1981 VW Rabbit Diesel (not a good idea with a diesel engine) and calling Dad sometime past midnight to come rescue me. He did. But let’s also note here that there was no touchy-feely promise of a safe-haven or a judgement-free zone or “no yelling till we’ve had a chance to sleep on it and cool off.” He was pissed off. There was never any confusion in my mind as to whether or not he was pissed off. He called me a dumbshit because that was clearly a dumbshit move. Duh.
  • He wasn’t a dad who brought me with him everywhere he went and patiently taught me all the practical skills I would need in life. In both our defense though, I wasn’t that kid. I would have gotten bored and confused and frustrated if he’d tried to “educate me” every time he fixed the toaster. And, oh, I can just imagine the amount of bitching and whining I’d have done if he’d taken me along on every errand.
  • He was a dad who patiently did his best to teach me life lessons. Usually through parables and anecdotes. (Yep, parables. He was just like Jesus, only a bit more profane.) “Greg, did I ever tell you the story about the frog?” (Lots of times.) “Greg, did I ever tell you about my very first girlfriend?” (Oh shit, this is going to be awkward.) “Greg, when I was your age, we had a neighbor with a great big dog. Meanest sunofabitch you ever met…” (Where’s he going with this one?) I remember at the time thinking that none of his stories were exactly a match for the situation I was in and that they weren’t particularly relevant or helpful. But I also remember giving him total credit at the time for trying. And I remember feeling better about my situation, just knowing that he cared enough to insert that not-quite-relevant story.
  • He wasn’t the “ultimate sacrifice” dad. You know this guy, you read stories about him on Facebook all the time. He’s that selfless soul who gave up his dreams and worked three jobs and never had any fun at all, just so he could send his kids to Disneyworld and pay their way through Mount Holyoke. I’m so glad my dad was not this guy.
  • He was a guy who (along with my mom) would go to dinner parties and get drunk with their friends. My dad would ride his bike over the hills to St. Helena on his own. He golfed as often as he could get out. My dad would uproot us every couple of years to move God knows where because it involved a chance to better his career (which he clearly didn’t know would end at 50). As a result, I have a well-rounded dad. I have a dad with hobbies and passions. I have a real dad. I have a great dad.

So Dad, if Mom’s reading this to you (cuz you can all be damned sure that my father is not sitting around on the internet, reading my blog), thank you. I saw, respected and appreciated the things you did for Christine and I. I love you!

 

*Okay, this is a joke. My father is a very intelligent man. And, while I’ve never seen his college transcript, I’m not aware that he ever failed any class in college – much less one in his major field of study. I just thought the “failing to learn the lessons of history” line was funny and wanted to work it in here!

Working the system

IMG_3966My dad’s a “working the system” guy.

Your brakes are squeaking?  “You call my friend, Dave!”

Wondering where to go to get your llama neutered? “Hang on, let me tell you who you need to get in touch with.”

Your furnace is making a funny noise and the kids are feeling lightheaded? “Pick up the phone and call your Uncle Ronnie. He’s got a friend who’ll take care of you.”

Here’s the problem though: I’m not a “working the system” guy. I’m not even much of an “interact with people in the real world” guy. So when I get these directives from my dad, I’m never sure what the end game is. Know what I mean?

Sure, let’s say I call my Uncle Ronnie. And let’s say he says, “Yep, I know a guy named Larry over at HeatPro.” And let’s say he gives me Larry’s number and I call him.

What’s next?

“Hi? Larry? Um… My name’s Greg. My dad, Tom, told me to call my Uncle Ronnie, who’s a friend of yours…”

At this point my inclination is to pause. I guess I’m waiting for Larry to say, “I love Ronnie! And you’re Tom’s boy? Hang on, give me your address, I’m on my way. And don’t you even think about trying to pay me or I’ll have your Uncle Ronnie kick your ass!”

But that never happens. In a case like this, I’ll usually get the patient ear of a pretty decent HVAC guy and we move forward from there. My question is, How am I better off this way than if I’d just looked up HVAC companies in my area? It seems to me like I’ve just wasted time with a phone call with my dad and a phone call with my Uncle Ronnie before making the same phone call to HeatPro that I could have made on my own. (Though, let’s be realistic, I probably would have called AAAA Heating, since they’re listed first.)

I understand endorsements and recommendations. I’ll give those myself sometimes. And maybe that’s all this is from my dad. It’s just that he seems so much more emphatic. When he’s telling me this, it makes me feel like there’s some sensational deal waiting for me with just a phone call. So I’m always left wondering if someone just forgot to give me the secret password or something. Totally frustrating.

Anyway, that long lead-in is intended to get to this story: A week or two ago, my dad was over and was talking about how he was in the process of buying a new vehicle here in St. Cloud. “I found [make/model] here in St. Cloud, over at Southwood Motors,” he said.

“Oh,” Corinne replied. “We love Southwood. They’re really fantastic. We’ve bought three or four vehicles there and always had great luck.”

Immediately, the working-the-system gears in my dad’s head started turning. He grabbed for his phone, pulled out the business card and dialed the number. He got voicemail.

“Scott?” he said to the answering machine, “This is Tom Skoog. Say, I’m sitting here with my daughter-in-law and she says that she’s bought three or four vehicles from you. Give me a call when you get a chance.”

That’s all I heard. I wasn’t there for the callback. So I don’t know if there’s some sort of Jedi mind trick that Dad used to get another 10 percent off the purchase price of his vehicle. Logic tells me there isn’t and he didn’t. So I was left wondering if the phone call was a complete waste of his 45 seconds.

And then the mail came today. Scott at Southwood sent Corinne and I $30 worth of passes to Summerland just for being nice enough to refer a friend. I suggested a place and Dad mentioned my name. End of story.

All of this, of course, begs the question: How much time are Ronnie and my dad spending at Summerland?

Cat video!

I’m shamelessly whoring myself out for traffic here. And, as I understand it, cat videos are the way to bring it in.

Hang on, I’ve gotta jack up my SEO. Cat video! Cat video! Cat video!

There’s no dramatically hilarious ending here. And no cats were harmed in the filming of this video. But it DOES seem kind of weird, doesn’t it? We just got the pool yesterday for Maeby to play in because THAT makes sense – she’s half poodle. But a cat? Corinne just turned around and looked out the window this morning and there he was. Hopped squarely into the middle of the pool.

Of course, every great film deserves a sequel. And so here’s my next summer blockbuster: Henry the Swimming Cat II – Copy Cat

(Henry’s agent tried to big-time us, so we played hardball and walked away. Therefore, the part of Henry in the sequel was actually played by Maeby.)

That’s it. That’s the end of this post. The rest of this is just pet updates for the curious (since I haven’t blogged about pets for awhile). Feel free to ignore.

PET UPDATES

Shouko, the golden retriever, is still alive and well at 12 years and change. We love her. (Especially since we built the fence this spring and don’t have to chase her around the neighborhood anymore.)

Last fall we decided it would be prudent to have a transitional phase between dogs so that Shouko could officially train in her replacement. So Maeby the aussiedoodle joined us. She’s fantastic and we’ve unofficially changed her breed to awesomedoodle.

And we thought we were complete there. No more crazy numbers of pets. Just two dogs. Almost like a normal family. And then came Henry.

Henry was Molly’s cat at her mom’s house. He’s about a year and a half to maybe two years old. And it just wasn’t working out there. (There is no shame in that. Sometimes bad matches happen.) So when Molly found out she was going to have to get rid of her cat, we decided to bite the bullet and take on an extra pet.

So far he’s been spectacular. Tons of personality. No obnoxiousness.

Of course, stay tuned for updates on all these characters and more.

Dese Two Utes

photo[3]

Yes, thank you, I’m aware that this is a crappy image. It’s the best I could find of me and Todd. I’ve still got that Twins cap, BTW. True story.

When I was 18 I spent a week without my drivers license. It wasn’t lost. I knew right where it was. It was just suspended. At the time, I blamed The Man. I’m older and wiser now. I blame Todd Agnew.

If you don’t know Todd and you happen to be in the market for a top-notch field-trained spaniel, I suggest you contact him immediately. You’ll do no better. He’s amazing.

But Todd, the mature adult dog breeder/trainer, will not be appearing in this post. This is an ’80s buddy-picture courtroom comedy starring a much slimmer me and a much less woodsy Todd. It’s kind of like My Cousin Vinny only (spoiler alert) nobody dies.

So without further adieu, I give to you the epic legal saga, “Greg and Todd Go to Court.”

In the summer of 1985, Todd and Whaley (a fantastic friend and character whose role in this already-long story ended up on the cutting room floor – sorry Whaley) and I all worked at the Sunoco station in the parking lot of the State Line Plaza (which, logically enough, lies directly between Plaistow, N.H., and Haverhill, Mass.).

HELL ON WHEELS

It’s important to detour for a moment here to talk about Todd and I and our respective rides.

Bug interiorTodd was driving a pale blue (very pale blue by that point) 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. And it was everything that name conjures up. The picture above is not Todd’s Bug – but it’s pretty damned close. Todd’s didn’t have the stereo actually “mounted” in the dashboard. And Todd’s had some distinctive burn marks around the glove box where Mike Harriman had lit a fire one cold winter morning while waiting for the ice rink to open for hockey practice. Also, I don’t know about the car in this picture, but I guarantee Todd’s Bug didn’t have a floor in the back. There were some floor mats draped lovingly over the rusted-out holes. But if you lifted up the floor mats, your ride took on a very Flintstone’s vibe. That was Todd’s car.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite that lucky.

I was riding a moped. (I blame Glenn Harnett for that one. But that’s a different story.)

only wo the chesty girlIt was a Batavus Starflite. It looked a lot like the one in the picture above, only without the rack on the back… Or the rack on the top. It was funny looking. It didn’t run all that well. With momentum and a steep downhill grade, I might have been able to get it up to 25-30 mph. In addition (listen up, Law & Order, this part’s important), it was goofed up to the point where you couldn’t start it by pedaling. You had to push it, get a running start, hop on and pop the starter. But it got great gas mileage!

THE TARGET

Directly across bustling Route 125 from the Plaistow Sunoco station was a nondescript little strip mall with a Hallmark store. And in that Hallmark store worked a girl. I remember two things about this girl:

  1. Todd thought she was cute and had invested some time into flirting with her.
  2. She had a friend who worked with her. (And I can’t even remember two things about that friend.)

Now, as any bro will tell you, the presence of #2 necessitated a wingman in order to execute #1. So, on the afternoon in question, Todd and I (who weren’t working) had grown tired of sitting around watching Whaley (who was working). “Let’s go to Hallmark,” he announced. And, bored stupid, I was on board. Todd hopped in his car, I ran for my moped, we crossed bustling Route 125 from our parking lot to the other, I jumped off my moped and in we went.

BUSTED

I don’t remember how long we were in there, but it couldn’t have been long because Todd was making no progress toward #1. But by the time we came out there was an odd couple waiting for us. Both, as it turned out, were among Plaistow’s Finest. He was resplendent in his crisply pressed blue uniform – the very picture of civic authority. She, on the other hand, was off duty. I remember flip flops. I remember a pony tail. I remember a beach towel over the shoulder. And I remember a t-shirt that featured some version of Mickey Mouse.

The off-duty police officer was sure that she had witnessed reckless operation of a motor vehicle and so she’d called down to the station for reinforcements. She was sure that what she had witnessed was two ne’er-do-well hooligans “racing” across from one parking lot to the other. And that shit don’t fly on the streets of Plaistow.

So we were cited and given our pieces of paper that directed us to appear in court on July 16, 1985. (“Happy birthday to me,” I mumbled.)

DUNK DUNK [cut to courtroom scene]

Sure, things looked bleak. But we weren’t going down without a fight. After all, this was America. And the truth was on our side, right?

Todd and I left nothing to chance. We prepared a 3’x4′ diagram of the “scene of the crime,” featuring cutout representations of all vehicles in question which could be moved and repositioned with Velcro. We wore suits. We had briefcases. We entered the courtroom and waited for our case to be called.

Here’s a brief-but-inclusive representation of how that went:

  • Bailiff: “Al Coholic? Public intoxication?”
  • Al: “Here.”
  • Judge: “How do you plead?”
  • Al: “Nolo.”
  • Judge: “Next.”
  • Bailiff: “D.T. Shakes? Public intoxication?”
  • D.T.: “Here.”
  • Judge: “How do you plead?”
  • D.T.: “Nolo.”
  • Judge: “Next”…

Then we were up. To their credit, the judge and the police officers involved were completely patient with us. I think they were all just happy for the change of pace. And I think they caught on that, while we were being a little smart-assy, we took this pretty seriously.

So time after time when Todd shouted, “I object!” the judge wouldn’t tell him to shut up and hold him in contempt. Instead he would calmly explain to Todd that, “Your objection is overruled. Mr. Agnew, you can’t object here because…” Until finally, after Todd’s fourth or fifth objection, the judge paused, cocked his head to one side, thought for a moment and replied, “Sustained.”

Back and forth the case went.

“Why would I possibly be racing a poorly functioning moped against a car? It doesn’t make sense.” (score 1 for us)

“Yes, I ran to get started. But not to race. That’s the only way to start the moped.” (score 1 for us)

“Why did I jump off my moped and bounce up and down? I’m just a bouncy kid, I guess. It certainly wasn’t because I was celebrating my victory – you just testified that I was the second one into the parking lot.” (score 1 for us)

In the end I think I was hurt by two words: “I’m sorry.”

“If,” they asked, “you’re not guilty, then why did you say you were sorry to the officers on the scene?”

I don’t think the judge grasped (and I certainly didn’t know how to articulate) that I was a pretty timid, well-mannered, extremely conflict-avoidant kid. If a figure of authority is yelling at you, you say you’re sorry. That’s how you make them stop yelling at you.

THE VERDICT

The judge took a few minutes to think over the case. We were both charged with Reckless Operation of a Motor Vehicle – which was a misdemeanor. I suppose technically that meant it could have involved jail time, but we never really worried about that. We were worried about big fines and long-term loss of licenses.

Finally the judge announced his verdict.

“Mr. Agnew? Not guilty.”

“Mr. Skoog? Guilty of Failure to Yield. You’re ordered to surrender your license for a period of one week and pay a fine of $100.”

Failure to yield. I don’t think you can appeal a ruling on a simple moving violation. So I would never get to point out the obvious fact that I was on a moped. If there had been a car there to whom I had failed to yield, I’d have been squashed. Whatever. At least Todd got off! Sweet freedom and justice. I felt moderately vindicated.

EPILOGUE

I’ve told this story a lot. And every time I conclude it with some sort of scoffing comment about the ridiculous accusation that we were “racing.” I was on a moped. Of course we weren’t “racing.”

It wasn’t until about 10 years ago – when Todd and I were actually together and telling this story – when I got to that point in the story and caught Todd snickering.

“I don’t know what the fuck you were doing,” he laughed. “But I was racing.”

Rule #1: Don’t forget your water bottle

photo[2]

Hell no, I don’t shave my legs.

To be an effective, efficient cyclist and get the most enjoyment out of your cycling experience, there are many, many rules and tips.

  • Always wear an ANSI-approved helmet.
  • Shift before you feel the need.
  • Pedal like you’re scraping dog shit off your shoes.

But the paramount rule is this: Don’t forget your water bottle.

Tonight was the first Monday-night group ride for the House of Pizza Fitness Team and I was pretty darned excited about it. It was a beautiful evening and I haven’t been able to get out riding with friends very often yet this year. So I rode hard to get home from work at a decent time and quickly took care of enough stuff around the house that I could ride without too much nagging deadbeat guilt. Then I dashed out the door to catch the group by 6:30.

I’d thought about a water bottle. Twice, actually. I’d just never gotten around to actually filling a water bottle and bringing one with me. And it didn’t occur to me until we were lining up to head out.

No biggie. It’s dry, calm and 70 degrees out. I can do this.

And I could have. There’s no grim cautionary tale coming here. I didn’t dangerously dehydrate and have to have IV fluids administered.

I just got thirsty.

And it wasn’t as pleasant as it might have been if I’d had a cool drink of water along. So when the youngest, rookiest rider of the group asked Eric Nacey if he had any valuable cycling tips, Eric was ready.

He flicked his bike up alongside me, handed me his spare bottle, looked at the kid and said, “Rule number one: Don’t forget your water bottle.”

That’s my friend. Eric Nacey: bike-maintenance guru, magnificent cycling beast, and hydro-philanthropist.

Thanks, man.